How Effective Are Different Welfare-to-Work Approaches? Five-Year Adult and Child Impacts for Eleven Programs. Key Findings


  • The programs generally had larger effects on earnings for people who had not worked in the year prior to random assignment than for those who had worked, and larger effects on earnings for long-term recipients than for short-term recipients. Programs that increased earnings more also tended to reduce cash assistance more. As a result, effects on cash assistance also were generally larger for those who had not worked recently and for long-term recipients.
  • There were often substantial differences in effects on earnings by level of disadvantage, but those differences were not consistent across programs. Some programs had much larger effects for the most disadvantaged than for the moderately disadvantaged. Other programs had much smaller effects for the most disadvantaged. Site may be more important than self-sufficiency approach. For example, both Grand Rapids programs had larger effects for the moderately disadvantaged, but both Atlanta programs had larger effects for the most disadvantaged.
  • In general, program effects on earnings were larger for Hispanic and African-American sample members than for white sample members. An important exception was the Portland program, which increased earnings of white sample members by more than $6,000 over five years but did not change earnings of African-American sample members. It is unclear what caused this large difference, but the result should be interpreted with a great deal of caution since the Portland sample contains few African-American control group members.
  • Although the more disadvantaged groups had higher earnings because of the programs, they still earned very little. For example, sample members without recent work experience had only about half as much in earnings as those with recent work experience, and the most disadvantaged group earned about half as much as the moderately disadvantaged group.
  • The programs did not systematically change income (from earnings, public assistance, and projected EITC payments net of payroll taxes) for any subgroups. This reflects the fact that welfare recipients who went to work lost some of their benefits, whether they were in the program or control group, while sanctions for those who failed to comply with program mandates may have reduced public assistance benefits by more than earnings for some people.
  • People in the LFA programs generally had higher earnings than those in the HCD programs. However, differences between the two approaches were generally small for most subgroups.
  • The Portland program, which was employment-focused but used a mix of job search and Adult Basic Education, had the largest or close to the largest effects on earnings for most subgroups. This suggests that the Portland approach was effective for a wide range of people.